Robert Kirkman continues the survivors painful journey in "Walking Dead Vol. 19: March to War". I honestly don't know why I keep reading them. More of the same: the survivors are gearing up to go against the current big bad, Negan. More people die. There's a guy with a tiger who is sweet on Michonne. Yeah, I don't even know anymore...
"Last of the Blue and the Gray" by Richard A. Serrano was very interesting, about the last survivors from the Civil War on both the Confederate and Union sides. A lot of veterans lived past 100, but many of them faked their service during the Great Depression in order to get a pension. Records of who served were spotty, especially in the South, and a lot of them ended up getting a pension even though Census records later proved some of them were born just before the war and were much too young to serve. Sorting out the real vets from the fake ones is quite a daunting challenge. No one wants to call a dying old man a liar, after all.
"Deadly" by Sara Shepard was really good. Maybe the last one for now? It's so hard to tell. It looks like the girls are being extradited to Jamaica for killing Tabitha Clark after Ali sends the news a video she faked of them beating Tabitha to death. The girls trust Agent Fuji and turn everything over to her, which Fuji then uses against them. I thought maybe Fuji was in on it, but maybe not. Shepard is so good at the red herring thing. In the end, Ali lures the girls to the basement of a house near Hanna's dad's campaign headquarters, and pumps cyanide in the room, with the help of Nick, who was in the Preserve with her and is "helper A", as the girls have been referring to him. When things go bad and Emily gets Nick's gun and turns on Ali, she creates a distraction and is able to slip away again. The girls are exonerated when Nick is arrested, but Ali vows revenge...someday.
"Hollow City" is the sequel to "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs. I really enjoyed the first one, and this one was great, too. It amazes me how he's able to incorporate these old, bizarre photos seamlessly into the story. The children have rescued Miss Peregrine, who is stuck in bird form, from the wights and are searching for another ymbryne to help her return to her human state. All the other ymbrynes have been kidnapped, though, until the kids get a lead on Miss Wren, who is hiding out in London. They finally do find Miss Wren, but when she changes the bird back to human it's not Miss Peregrine but her evil brother, Caul. He and the other wights take the children and Miss Wren captive, but they manage to escape and end up in Jacob's present day. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out!
"June Bug" by Chris Fabry was a little too sentimental for my taste. June Bug lives with her dad on the road: they criss cross the nation in an old, broken down RV. They meet a lot of super nice (read: unrealistic) people who help them out, perfectly willing to take complete strangers into their home, feed them, clothe them, offer to adopt June Bug, etc. Anyway, at a Walmart in Colorado June Bug sees a missing child poster for Natalie Edwards, and realizes it's her. She starts pestering her "dad", Johnson, and we eventually learn that Johnson saved Natalie when her real mother tried to have her killed. He held onto her because she gave *him* a reason to live. I think I'm too cynical to be charmed by books like these.
"I'll Take Care of You" is another amazing true crime read from Caitlin Rother. A wealthy Newport Beach inventor, Bill McLaughlin, throws over his wife for a hot young piece he meets in a singles column, who then proceeds to steal from him and cheat on him with a hot young guy. So when Bill is murdered, the police immediately suspect his decades younger girlfriend, Nanette, and her boyfriend Eric. It took the police and the DA's office 17 years to prosecute, but in the end they were both found guilty. Good. Men, let this be a lesson to you. Poor Bill learned the hard way.
"Carthage" by Joyce Carol Oates was as usual deeply disturbing. Cressida Mayfield has always been odd, the "smart one" to older sister Juliet, the "pretty one". Juliet gets engaged to Brett Kincaid, who enlists after 9/11 and comes back injured from Afghanistan. He breaks off his engagement to Juliet and becomes strange, different. Cressida has always had a secret crush on Brett, and when he comes back changed, she thinks this is her chance, since now they are both different. But when she doesn't come home after sneaking out to meet Brett at a bar, all eyes of the town turn to him with suspicion. Brett at first denies having hurt Cressida, but later confesses to murdering her and burying her body. Seven years later in Florida, we meet Sabbath McSwain, who is really Cressida Mayfield. After Brett rejected her, she ran away from home and ended up working for a professor. When he takes her to a prison and she goes inside a death chamber, Cressida realizes she needs to go back home to make things right. Very twisted, but good.
"Hollywood Hellraisers" by Robert Sellers was great fun. Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, and Warren Beatty all raised hell and had a great time doing it. It's honestly a miracle any of them survived for as long as they did.
"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell was so charming and awesome. Cath and Wren are twins, and off to college. Cath wants to room with Wren while Wren is eager to break away from her twin and pursue her own identity. For years the girls have collaborated on a fanfiction based on a popular bestselling book series very similar to Harry Potter. Cath continues the fanfiction, which takes up a lot of her life and almost makes her miss out on a chance to fall in love with Levi. It was really great.
I have mixed feelings about "Lookaway, Lookaway" by Wilton Barnhardt. I liked parts of it, but some of it wasn't so good. It was very similar to "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner (and he mentions Faulkner many times) in looking at a decaying Southern family told from varying points of view from different family members, and ending with the point of view of a friend of the family who is African American. Not a single character was completely likeable, but that's pretty realistic: everyone has faults. Still, I don't know. I just didn't care for how hard and mean everyone ended up being.
Speaking of Faulkner--I visited Rowan Oak this weekend. It was incredible, and I'm still in shock I think :)
I haven't been reading at all lately because I got a new phone and now I spend all my free time playing with it.
I know, I know, I'm ashamed of myself, too.
Jeff Benedict's "The System" was an interesting look at college football. He spent two years observing and interviewing everyone he could get his hands on in some of college football's most prominent systems, from coaches, to athletic directors, to boosters, big donors, and hostesses. He detailed all the faults as well as what works, and how it's so corrupt no one even knows how to really regulate it. Powerful stuff. I'm not a huge college football fan, but I do watch some, so it's amazing to me how it works from the inside.
"Born Round" by Frank Bruni hit home. He was overweight as a kid, always hungry, always eating. He has spent his whole adult life yo-yo dieting (not familiar *at all*). He's in his forties now, and is (at least when this book was written a few years ago) at a good, healthy place despite being a prominent food critic for the New York Times. It was a great read that gives me hope: if Frank can do it, I can too.
"Sourland" by Joyce Carol Oates was an good collection of short stories. I'm not normally a big short story fan, but these were good. The pain from losing her husband shines through in many of them.
And finally, "Last Night at the Viper Room" by Gavin Edwards looks at the all too short life and tragic loss of River Phoenix, dead twenty years ago of a drug overdose at the age of 23. In light of Philip Seymour Hoffman's untimely overdose, it really makes me sad how Hollywood seems to ruin so many bright and promising talents. Some people can survive and even thrive, but others just can't take it. Poor River. What a talent. It would have been amazing to see him mature.
"The Wedding Gift" by Marlen Suyapa Bodden was a moving story of Sarah, a slave who dreams of being free, and her white half-sister, Clarissa. They grow up together, first Sarah is Clarissa's playmate, and then her maid. Sarah's mother teaches them both to read and write, even though it's against the law for slaves to have that knowledge. Sarah marries Isaac, her mulatto cousin, while Clarissa puts off her marriage to wealthy Julius Cromwell for as long as she can, until she discovers she is pregnant. A scant five months after marriage, she gives birth. Sarah recognizes the child as Isaac's, and the Cromwell's throw Clarissa out because it's obvious the baby is partially black. Clarissa, Sarah, and the baby go back to Clarissa's family but her father is having none of it and send the child to an orphanage and lets Clarissa die of childbed fever. I really liked the ending, it was a good story.
"History Decoded" by Brad Meltzer was fun. I'm not a huge conspiracy theorist type of person, like Area 51 for example, I don't particularly care what's being hidden (if anything) out there. But it's still interesting to read about the different mysteries that have never been solved, like D. B. Cooper and the Confederate gold.
P. J. O'Rourke always makes me laugh, and his latest "Baby Boom", was very funny. He turns his wit on himself and his generation. It made me nostalgic for a life I never even lived.
J. Lincoln Fenn's thriller "Poe" started out very good, but then it got very long and felt unnecessary. Dimitri discovers he has the ability to summon spirits because he is the grandson of Rasputin. Poe is what he calls the somewhat friendly spirit who is trying to warn him about a demonic spirit who has inhabited the body of his girlfriend Lisa's brother and is now killing people. If the spirit kills one more person, he'll be unstoppable.
"Tudor" by Leanda de Lisle was very good. It was an interesting look at the Tudor dynasty in terms of familial relationships: how they were all related, who married who and what the consequences were in terms of the succession, etc. I enjoyed it, and actually learned some new things.
"Twilight of Lake Woebegotten" by Harrison Geillor was a hilarious parody not only of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" but also Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon books. Bonnie Grayduck moves to Lake Woebegotten in Minnesota to live with her dad. She meets Edwin Scullen and falls for him, but it turns out Edwin and his family are vampires. What made this book so funny is that Bonnie is a cold hearted, calculated killer. She wants to be a vampire so she has powers, and manipulates Edwin and everyone else in Lake Woebegotten into thinking she's a harmless, helpless, somewhat klutzy girl when really she's ruthless and vindictive. Edwin comes across as a real pansy, especially after he turns Bonnie into a vampire.
I haven't read any Bentley Little in a long time. His latest, "The Influence", was gross and creepy good. Ross lost his engineering job a year earlier. He's living off his savings, afraid of losing his condo in Phoenix while he hunts for a job, and resentful that despite the fact that he's helped everyone in his family, no one steps up to help him. Until his cousin Lita offers him her guest house at her and her husband Dave's farm in Magdalena. Ross gratefully takes her up on it, even though he's not a fan of living in the middle of nowhere. Ross finds Magdalena isn't so bad. He helps Dave with some simple chores and sends out resumes and job hunts online. Everything is fine until New Year's Eve. At a raucous party at wealthy rancher and local bully Cameron Holt's place, a group of rowdy citizens fire off their pistols into the air at midnight and shoot something out of the sky. Everyone is convinced it's an angel because that's what it *wants* everyone to think. It must be protected. Even though Ross, Lita, and Dave weren't at the party, they do eventually find out what happens when things in town start going wonky. Luck changes: formally unlucky people suddenly find themselves rich, and the rich are losing all their money. Animals are dying, or changing into unrecognizable monsters. Ross, his girlfriend Jill, and Dave and Lita flee Magdalena but find that they can't escape the influence of the angel and so they make plans to go back and destroy it. Sure, good luck with that.
"Manson" by Jeff Gunn was well researched and well written, not just an account of the famous trial (which Vincent Bugliosi wrote about so well in "Helter Skelter"), but about how Manson was able to attract followers in the first place, and how he persuaded these lost souls to kill for him. Truly a dangerous man.
"The Novel Cure" by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin was great fun. They listed a bunch of maladies, from loneliness to stress, some tongue in cheek (like burning dinner) and suggest some appropriate reading material to help take your mind off your worries. The only problem is now I have a huge list of books they've suggested that I don't have time to read but really want to! Plus, they are actually bibliotherapists: it's an actual profession, where they help people decide what to read. Sounds kind of like a cross between a librarian and a therapist. Sounds neat!
"Game" by Anders de la Motte was an exciting thriller. Henke finds a cell phone on a train, and it asks him if he'd like to play a game. He accepts, and finds himself sucked into a world of increasingly daring missions, until he ends up hurting his sister. Now not only is his life at risk but everyone he cares about as well. It's the first of a trilogy, so I'm excited for the next one.
I wanted to read Tracey Letts' play "August: Osage County" before I go to see the film. It was very good about a dysfunctional family who can't even put their hurts and differences aside in the face of tragedy. It was very dark but funny. I can't wait to see the movie.
And finally, I was surprised by how much I liked Dean Koontz's latest, "Innocence". It was really different. We're introduced to Addison, who was turned out of his house at the age of 8 by his mother, who promptly killed herself. Something about Addison whips people into a murderous rage: we're told the midwife tried to smother him upon delivery. Addison does his best to keep himself hidden from the world, and makes his way to the city, where he finds a man who suffers from the same affliction he does. Together they keep each other safe and happy in their simple underground world, until the day when Father is brutally murdered. Six years later, Addison meets a young girl on the run for her life. Gwyneth suffers from a crippling form of social anxiety and can't bear to be around people, or to be touched, and together they form an unlikely pair based on mutual trust. A man-made plague is coming to end the world, and they survive because what makes them hideous to others is their purity. When mere mortals look upon them, they relive all the awful things they've ever felt and done, and it makes them want to kill them so they don't feel that way anymore, which actually made a lot of sense to me, moreso than a monster or something. Anyway, I enjoyed it.